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Birnbaum Appears Before Subcommittee on Health

By Eddy Ball
May 2010

Linda Birnbaum,  Ph.D.
Birnbaum has succeeded in making sure that lawmakers are getting the NIEHS message on environmental public health. At the hearing, she discussed ways chemicals can trigger epigenetic alterations affecting gene transcription and windows of susceptibility can determine the effects of exposure to such chemicals as bisphenol A. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Henry  Falk, M.D.
Falk is the acting director of the National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at CDC. Falk pointed to partnerships with NIEHS, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and others to try to close regulatory gaps, such as the water quality of private wells. (Photo courtesy of CDC)

Lawmakers turned once more to NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.(, on Earth Day, April 22 for expert advice about the environment and public health. Birnbaum joined Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spokesman Henry Falk, M.D., during a hearing at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington.

Speaking to members of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health chaired by Representative Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), Birnbaum and Falk addressed the issue of "The Environment and Human Health: The Role of HHS."

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Both leaders discussed U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) programs studying, tracking, and addressing the effects of environmental factors on human health and illness, as they described their agencies' efforts to translate environmental science research into primary prevention measures in communities. Birnbaum's testimony is posted on the NIEHS Web site( and on the hearing Web site( Exit NIEHS, where Falk's testimony and a video link( Exit NIEHS are also available.

Birnbaum began with an overview of NIEHS research initiatives and the challenges of studying complex diseases caused by the interplay of genes, environment, and developmental timing, before giving the lawmakers concrete examples of Institute-funded outreach and translation efforts. "At NIEHS, we also recognize that the ultimate goal is to move our science into real-world applications to solve problems in communities," she told the committee.

She pointed to outreach efforts by grantees in the NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) at New York University, which served as a consultant on the chromium cleanup program in Jersey City, N.J.; at the Harvard University SRP, which is working in a population of pregnant women with relatively low arsenic exposures in Tar Creek, Okla.; and at the Duke University SRP, which has conducted research on fipronil, a new pesticide, that shows it has the same adverse effects on neurodevelopment as the chemical it replaced, chloropyrifos.

After discussing the emerging science of predictive toxicology and NIEHS and NTP partnerships to advance alternative testing and provide solid scientific evidence for regulatory agencies, Birnbaum concluded her testimony by reminding the lawmakers of the NIEHS mission. "At NIEHS," she said, "we remain committed to leading the evolution of the field of environmental health sciences to meet emerging public health challenges."

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